Who out there is unfortunate to remember the Sandra Bullock film The Net? A film which doesn’t even press the ‘guilty pleasure’ button. In The Net, a meek computer expert discovers a program so powerful it can change Wall Street, halt air traffic control and crack the Federal Government. When the program makers track Bullock they delete her, posing the question ‘if computers don’t know you exist, how can you prove otherwise?’ A thriller of sorts then follows – now identity theft is an everyday occurrence with a reported 15 million victims a year and is considered little more than a minor inconvenience. Technophobia was rife in the 90s and the film hacked into that fear, albeit in a schlocky way. It’s akin to the current furore regards ‘legal highs’ or those on benefits.
Wizzywig, published by Top Shelf Productions, is the life story of Kevin “BoingThump” Phenicle, a hacker from the payphone/bluebox era, no doubt inspired by the two Kevin’s – Poulsen and Mitnick – and every notorious hacker of the last 25 years, including Josef Carl Engressia, Jr. or Joybubbles, who was gifted with absolute pitch – the ability to recreate a musical note.
We follow his life in a nonlinear fashion, receiving additional information in the form of overzealous news reports and interviews with those who knew him or his activities. At one point “BoingThump” uses his abilities to take control of telephone lines ensuring he’d be the winner of various radio station competitions, including one to win a Porsche, mirroring the act of Poulsen’s handle Dark Dante. Previous to this, he also had a scam for free bus travel, one utilised by Mitnick in the 70s.
However, it is a sad world Kevin occupies – bullied, with little to no respect from his peers, intelligent but awkward. Accused on the ability to “start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone”, something that Mitnick was accused off, he ends up on the run, separated from his family.
The book itself is gorgeous and its contents so heartfelt I’ve treasured reading it over the past month. Its attention to detail is beyond that of anything I’ve read in recently times. I was thoroughly charmed. I cannot recommend this highly enough – it is a masterful piece of storytelling by a great cartoonist.
Ed Piskor’s style has all the hallmarks of Dan Clowes and Chris Ware – there’s many an inside joke, look carefully for the cameos by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Harvey Pekar. It’s thoughtful and clever, and tells a story of a subculture which continues to be of interest today.
As the mysticism remains – see Lisbeth Salander in the woeful The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. However, hackers rely on the stupidity of those they are trying to hack (for an excellent example of such stupidity see Oliver Burkeman’s article entitled Online Passwords: Keep it Complicated or XKCD’s delightful comic Password Strength). If your feet are firmly planted in reality, perhaps you’d like to read about and support Gary McKinnon – a hacker, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, who poked around in NASA’s business for evidence of UFO activity and now faces a lifetime in maximum security prison, without the possibility of parole (Ed – However, excellent news broke earlier this week that the UK Home Secretary Theresa May will block extradition).
Ed Piskor says that Wizzywig is his first “real” solo release. However, he was the artist on Macedonia and The Beats, both of which were written by the late Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, The Quitter, Cleveland), an American underground comics legend. Over at wizzywigcomics.com you can see his forthcoming release Deleterious Pedigree. His weekly comic strip Brain Rot is hosted at BoingBoing.net.
See the trailer and theme tune HERE.